Researchers from King’s College London have developed an eye tracking technology that enables young children to engage in immersive Virtual Reality (VR) experiences during Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. This new technology offers a gaze-based interface that operates instantly and reliably without the need for complex setup tasks, allowing for seamless interaction as soon as the MRI begins.

The system, tested on 23 children aged 2 to 13, allows them to play games and watch films using only their eyes during MRI scans. This development is particularly significant as MRI scans can be daunting for children, often causing discomfort and requiring stillness, which is challenging for younger patients. By integrating VR controlled by eye movements, the researchers aim to reduce anxiety and movement, enhancing the quality of the MRI images obtained.

Dr. Kun Qian, a Post-Doctoral Researcher in the Centre for the Developing Brain at the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, led the study. «Our new technology shows promise to solve virtually all of the limitations of existing systems. It opens new possibilities for awake MR studies in young children, potentially reducing the need for interventions like anesthesia,» Dr. Qian explained. This advancement is crucial for clinical and research purposes, enabling the study of brain activity in children during a formative period of their development.

Traditional gaze-based Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) systems often require calibration, complicating immediate interaction. However, the new technology developed by the team at King’s College London eliminates this barrier, allowing children to engage with the VR system instantly. This immediate engagement is crucial in maintaining their interest and reducing stress during the MRI process.

To further enhance the experience, the researchers have created game and video content tailored to each child’s preferences. The child can interact with the VR content by simply focusing their gaze on specific items on the screen, which triggers actions like playing games or watching videos. This continuous interaction helps to keep the child engaged and minimizes head movements during the scan.

In addition to the eye-tracking technology, the team has incorporated the DISORDER method, previously developed at King’s College London, to correct any head motion retrospectively. This combination of innovations ensures that high-quality brain images can be obtained from awake children, even if some movement occurs during the scan.

Article written by Oliver Johnson



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